Sarah Wright soars towards bigger role in Saskatoon Valkyries backfield

Originally published on Canada Football Chat:

Returning for a second season of Saskatoon Valkyries football, Sarah Wright took on a greater sense of confidence. With a breadth of experience that included both flag and touch versions of the game, the chance for the native of Saskatoon to graduate to tackle football, brought with it a very positive learning experience.

Playing in the hub of elite Canadian football, as the province of Saskatchewan has led the way in developing elite talent, enriching Wright’s experience with the Valks. Compared to her first season with the club, a significant aspect in Wright’s gridiron evolution involved taking on a bigger role, simultaneously emerging as a local hero.

Making the transition from fullback to running back, Wright displayed tremendous proficiency, adapting to her new role with a combination of alacrity and eagerness. Complementing such a willingness to learn and grow was the fact that the Valks tweaked their offensive attack. Changing from a formation that involved a pair of running backs, the club opted for a one runner in the backfield, establishing a featured back, it proved to be a role that suited Wright ideally,

“Going into last season with the Valkyries, though I have played many forms of football (i.e. flag and touch), I was not too certain about where I would specifically fit in on the team.

I started out practices as a receiver because that is was I was more used to but as time progressed some of the girls on the team suggested I try running back. I absolutely fell in love with that position and felt as I was helping my team more.

In my first year, I played fullback which was more blocking and power runs out of a two-back system. This year, we changed our offense formation to only have one running back and I think with that it motivated me to push harder at every practice to earn my playing time on the field.

By changing this formation, I believe that we had more options for run plays out of the backfield. In comparison to my first year I believe I came into the season more prepared as well as excited to try and win.”

Considering that the Valks welcomed many new faces to the season, Wright’s presence as a second year player also involved taking on a more mature role, evolving into a leader. Setting a positive example through work ethic, Wright’s assiduousness at the running back position also helped establish a crucial tone.

Reflecting on the fact that the running back position did involve several other players lining up in the backfield, mirroring an approach that saw players attempt numerous new positions this season, Wright’s presence provided consistency.

“There were a lot of changes throughout the season when it came to running back, we had lots of people moving in and out of positions right at the beginning and throughout the season as well, but mostly we had girls who were playing this position for the first time.

Being the only returning running back from the year before I felt like I somewhat put on a leadership role in ways of getting everyone excited to play this position and trying to prepare for the games.”

Taking into account that growth and evolution emerged as key themes in Wright’s second season of Valks football, such themes took on bigger meaning for the team in general. With the WWCFL adopting a new playoff format, as the top seed in each conference took on the second seeded team in the opposing conference, the Valks were lined up against the Western Conference’s Calgary Rage.

Leading up to the postseason, Wright would play a key factor. Amassing a brilliant performance against the Manitoba Fearless, highlighted by a 29-yard touchdown run, the regular season victory helped the Valks punch their ticket to an eighth straight playoff appearance, while avoiding its first-ever losing season.

The sense of achievement was one that encompassed Wright’s journey in 2018, progressively becoming an impact player and a key cog in the Valks’ offensive machine,

“Going into the game against the Fearless I knew that it would be a good, hard fought out game. Their football team has many strong and talented football players and I knew that this game was going to be challenging.

Throughout the season my goals included getting better each game and earning my touches so when this came around I knew that I had to be on top of my game and to put our team in good positions when I could. when the game finished it was an awesome feeling knowing that we got to go on to the next round of playoffs because we knew we were not finished yet. It was an awesome feeling.”

Disposing of the Rage in the semis, the Finals founds the Valks facing a highly familiar opponent. Renewing rivalries with the Regina Riot, whom they have opposed in the postseason during every year of WWCFL football, the first-ever All-Saskatchewan Final brought with it a heightened importance to the expanding presence of the WWCFL final in sporting Canadiana.
Worth noting, Wright would make her presence felt in the opening half, score the first touchdown in this highly historic championship game. Along with a 29-yard field goal by Carly Dyck, a member of Canada’s national women’s football team in 2017, the Valks boasted a 10-0 advantage. Although the Riot bounced back after halftime, claiming a 14-10 victory, the Valks assembled a valiant effort during an intense contest where both teams were evenly matched.

Reflecting on the championship game, Wright refuses to wallow in self-pity. Acknowledging that the team has been one in transition over the last few seasons, she is also quick to point out that the amount of new faces eager to build on the foundation established by many franchise luminaries has added a feeling of both pride and rejuvenation.

Praising the efforts of her teammates, refusing to quit in a game that demonstrated the high quality of play from both teams, it has only fueled Wright’s drive to return to the WWCFL’s biggest game in 2019. Geared towards attaining a sixth championship for the club, Wright’s determination is one that may fulfill the hopes and dreams of an entire fan base and organization. For opposing teams, the site of number 88 in the backfield next season may be poised to instill dread, ready to grow into the role of game changer.

“Being able to reach the final was a great feeling. I know our team lost some key players over the last couple of years but that only opened doors for others to shine. I could tell that our whole team was in it to win it and though the outcome of the game did not go as planned, every girl and coach put their heart and soul into that last game and that is all anyone could ever ask for. Playing in the final against our rivals was an awesome experience and I definitely think we can make it there again next season.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Rookie sensation Julianna Keys jubilant in championship season for Regina Riot

Originally published on Canada Football Chat:

Part of a superlative rookie class for the Regina Riot, Julianna Keys was hardly a novice player when she donned the club’s iconic colors. Akin to many young players eager to make their mark in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL), Keys brought a competitive background to her gridiron endeavors.

At the high school level, Keys competed in flag football throughout all four of her years. Displaying a tremendous proficiency at the sport, she was encouraged to attempt the tackle version of the game at the suggstion of her high school coach; Payton Kuster, one of the Riot’s luminaries.

“I have played flag all four years of high school and loved it; with my coach being a player on the Riot that was how I got introduced to women’s tackle football.”

Gaining a spot on the Riot’s roster as a running back, the number 27 adorned on the back of her jersey, Keys was part of a highly talented backfield that included Carmen Agar, Carly Kentz and Mallory Starkey. As a side note, Agar and Starkey have also appeared for Team Canada at the IFAF Women’s Worlds.

Appearing in her first game for the Riot, Keys reflected on the fact that she had mixed emotions upon gracing the gridiron of the WWCFL. While there were the obligatory elements of nervousness, there was also a sense of adventure, thrilled at the prospect of graduating to a much more competitive version of the game.

Abandoning the flags from her high school years for the shoulder pads of a much more intense game, Keys was eager to run for daylight each time that she was given the ball. Enjoying the fact that she was able to transfer the preparations from training camp into actual game day action, she also balanced her duties on offense with playing time on special teams, returning kickoffs.

“Honestly it was both nerve wracking and really fun. Going into our first game I still did not fully know all of the rules and I basically just learned them as they came up during each play, so my coaches were very understanding with all my rookie questions.

Yet, every series I got on for running back was awesome and it was nice running our plays we practiced for months against a new defence. The nerve wracking part for me was returning (on special teams), because there was so much pressure, but once I caught the ball, I just ran and all the nerves were gone.”

As the season progressed, Keys not only acquired confidence, but a group of role models, inspiring her to push herself to be the best player possible. In addition to finding a group of mentors in her fellow running backs, Kuster remained an invaluable influence for Keys.

Calling her high school coach a teammate, Keys enjoyed the fact that Kuster was also a participant on special teams. Undoubtedly, that influence was also integral towards Keys absorbing the Riot’s commendable team culture, one that has transformed players into champions.

“I definitely look up to Payton Kuster because she has been my flag coach for the past four years at LeBoldus and the person who said I should try out the Riot. I also played returner with her, so she helped me so much on and off the field and taught me a lot about football.

I also look up to my fellow running backs Carmen Agar, Mallory Starkey, and Carly Kentz; they taught me so much about the position so I really looked to them for pointers and feedback. Honestly, the whole team and coaching staff is so welcoming and helpful.”

By season’s end, Keys enjoyed a unique milestone that very few rookies ever experience. In addition to capturing the WWCFL championship in her inaugural season, such status was enhanced by the fact that the Riot went undefeated.

Having enjoyed such a sterling mark, it truly embodied the meaning of a “dream season” for the jubilant Keys. Certainly, the proud presence of Kuster served to extend an enjoyable time that has seen Keys grow in her gridiron odyssey alongside her.
Benefiting from the opportunity to win a title alongside her former high school coach only enhanced an already memorable season, which Keys hopes to build upon with greater glories ahead.

“It was incredible to win a championship my first year with such an amazing team and be able to contribute what I could on the field! Also to be a rookie and get playing time was awesome and I just had a blast every play. Overall, I could not have asked for a better first season with the Riot.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Delayne Aiken part of Saskatoon Valkyries bright rookie class

Originally published on:

With an influence that grows with each successive season, another aspect that has experienced growth in the lore of the Saskatoon Valkyries has involved the number of millennials gracing the gridiron. The 2018 Valkyries season brought with it a number of highly enthusiastic young women eager to build on the green and white’s proud gridiron legacy.

Among such a group included Delayne Aiken, experiencing the gridiron game for the first time in her athletic endeavors. Donning the number 20 during her inaugural campaign with the Valkyries, the apt Aiken amassed playing time, her confidence growing with every subsequent contest.

Of all the contests that saw Aiken grace the gridiron, the playoffs presented her with a series of new challenges, featuring an entire new concept in the league’s postseason structure. For the first time in league history, the playoffs consisted of conference cross-overs, with the first place team in each conference (Prairie and Western) facing the second place team from the opposing conference.

Such a setting provided Aiken with a unique milestone. In addition to competing in her first-ever playoff game, she would also experience the challenge of opposing a team in the Western Conference for the first time in her promising career.

Providing the opposition was the defending Western Conference champion Calgary Rage. While the ambitious Rage has aspirations of returning to the WWCFL finals for the second consecutive year, Aiken and her Valks teammates denied them such goals. Despite a Valks roster struggling with injuries, the collective effort against a highly competitive Rage squad provided Aiken with tremendous inspiration, definitely the finest hour this season for the proud club.

“This was my first season with the Valkyries, and I had the privilege to play as much as I was able to during the season. Playing against the Calgary Rage was definitely a different experience compared to our regular season games.

There was a different element of knowing it was our time to play our hearts out or to be done for our 2018 season, the weather at times was not the most ideal at times of the game but I believed we put our best foot forward and played with our highest ambitions. I believed we played one of our best games against Calgary, despite the injuries and hardships that we faced.”

Reaching the WWCFL Finals for the unprecedented sixth time in franchise history, it provided Aiken with a celebrated milestone. Gaining the opportunity to play for a league championship represents a rare pinnacle for any first-year player. Understandably, there was the obligatory feeling of nervousness.

Intensifying the sense of competition on this day was the fact that it marked the first-ever All-Saskatchewan meeting in WWCFL Finals history. Also marking the eighth consecutive postseason meeting between the Valks and their eternal rivals, the Regina Riot, the first seven took place in the Prairie Conference championship game.

“The championship game was one of the most nerve racking experiences that I have ever had. This was the do or die of the season, but we played definitely the best games of football I believe in the entire season against the Riot.

There were a lot of mixed emotions of pride and fear going into the championship. Proud of my team, proud of myself, proud of our coaching staff and our fans who supported all of us the entire season. The fear was of making mistakes, doing the wrong thing and losing the game.

Although we did not win the championship this year, I am ready to take on next year with full intentions of bringing the trophy to Saskatoon.”

Becoming part of the premier rivalry in Canadian female football, the chance to play against the Riot represented a “Welcome to the WWCFL” moment for Aiken. The realization of this rivalry, and its meaning in Canadian sporting lore, is one that served as one of the defining elements of what it meant to suit up for the Valks.

Although the Riot captured their third championship in franchise history, part of a shared dynasty between both clubs, each having won every title in WWCFL history, the opportunity has only furthered Aiken’s dreams of gridiron glory. Taking into account that the match was a highly tense defensive struggle, the Valks certainly played with determination and heart. In spite of the final score, Aiken was proud of the effort, subsequently gaining the invaluable experience of what it meant to compete in the league’s biggest match.

“The Regina Riot are a strong team, they have been working hard in the season, just like any other team in this league. Playing against Regina, I never knew that there was a rivalry, but when I found out, it just made that experience a heightened suspense.

There was a lot more expectation I think of myself. To make sure that I made my best efforts and did what I was supposed to, because the plays you made, ultimately were shown through in the final scores. Playing them just shows how competitive you have to be and how much passion you have for your team and this sport to be able to put up a good fight.”

During such a sensational season, one filled with many “firsts” in Aiken’s career, perhaps the most treasured moment involved the obligatory sense of camaraderie that encompasses the football experience. As the women of the WWCFL also engage in commendable volunteer work, participating in fund raising while looking to make their community a better place, the social aspect was just as crucial towards allowing for an enjoyable transition on the gridiron for Aiken.

Looking back on such a formative time, Aiken also discusses how the quick bonding on the field added to the sensation of competing in such an adrenaline-filled sport. Time spent in the huddles and in the trenches enriched the experience, truly gaining the satisfying feeling of being a gridiron goddess. As the Valkyries continue to build for the future, they have the potential for a true mainstay in Aiken,

“My favourite moment of the season, gee, that’s a hard one. I think my biggest thing was getting to know my team, and getting to feel that love and support from so many empowering women.

I would have never thought that I would play football, let alone enjoy it. I absolutely fell in love with the game, and the emotions and thrills you get from having the privilege to play this sport is phenomenal. I think the best moments were in the huddles, being together with your team, getting amped up for the next play and just focusing on what your job is on the field.

The best moments are the ones you get to share with your team, whether it is at practice, doing volunteer work, getting ice cream together or just spending time visiting with each other. It is an amazing sport, with so many empowering women, and it is a great way to stay in shape.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Australia’s Georgia Moore makes Alberta sporting history twice in one year

One of the most unique aspects of the 2013 CWHL Draft was the fact that Georgia Moore became the first Australian-born player selected. Hoping to crack the roster of the Alberta Hockey Club, an additional bit of history was made with the pick. In addition to her hockey background, Moore spent part of 2013 as a competitor in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. She made her WWCFL debut on June 8 in High River, Alberta as her club competed against expansion cousins the Grande Prairie Northern Anarchy

Moore with the former Strathmore Rockies of the WWHL (Obtained from:

Moore with the former Strathmore Rockies of the WWHL (Obtained from:

Of note, Moore was not the only player with experience on the gridiron claimed in the draft. Julie Paetsch, who helped the Saskatoon Valkyries to its third straight WWCFL title, while also contributing to a silver medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, was claimed in the CWHL Draft. Ironically, Paetsch became a member of the Alberta Hockey Club, marking the first time that two women’s football players were selected in the CWHL Draft, let alone with the same franchise.

Evading a tackler from Grande Prairie (Image by Pete Mouland, Obtained from:

Evading a tackler from Grande Prairie (Image by Pete Mouland, Obtained from:

While Moore is a member of the Australian national women’s team, she relocated to Calgary, Alberta at the tender age of 18. Like many international players, Moore made the decision to improve her skills and better her game by moving to a region where hockey is highly popular. Although her intention was to stay for three months and go back to Australia, Calgary has become an adopted home for her.

Having lived in Calgary since 2005, she has competed at various levels of hockey. From the Southern Alberta Women’s Hockey Association to the collegiate level with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, complemented by a three year stint with the Strathmore Rockies of the Western Womens’ Hockey League.

Although relocating to Calgary was a significant life decision, she was not alone in making the move. Having also resided in Calgary for several years was Rylie Padjen, a teammate on Australia’s national team.

Having lived in Calgary since 2005, she has competed at various levels of hockey. From the Southern Alberta Women’s Hockey Association to the collegiate level with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, her love of the game was stimulated. This was also complemented by a three year stint with the Strathmore Rockies of the Western Women’s Hockey League.

For Moore, the opportunity to compete with the Rockies was a fantastic opportunity. Their formation was a complete rebuttal to the existence of the Calgary Oval X-Treme, which featured only members of the Canadian national women’s team on their roster. The Rockies provided other women in Calgary the opportunity to compete at an elite level hockey.

Formed by player and women’s hockey activist Samantha Holmes, Moore had the opportunity to learn from players such as Delaney Collins, Bobbi-Jo Slusar and Kelsey Webster. Dissolved in 2011, many of the Rockies players had the opportunity to extend their careers with the new Alberta franchise in the CWHL.

Invited to the Alberta training camp in 2011, Moore had not qualified for the final roster. While she continued to compete internationally with the Australian national team (which she joined at age 16), she hungered to continue to play at an elite level in Canada.

The opportunity to play women’s tackle football with the Okotoks Lady Outlawz in 2013 may have been a blessing in disguise. As the biggest challenge for any athlete is to remain in shape throughout the off-season, Moore’s speed and on-ice vision made her a suitable candidate to compete on the gridiron.

Despite the fact that the Lady Outlawz failed to win a game in their inaugural season, Moore was one of many bright spots on a young team. Along with Amber Larson and Christine Szostak, the three form a remarkable backfield. Allison Mouland, an exceptionally talented athlete who is the team’s quarterback is a born leader. Fans can only hope that Moore will return to the WWCFL gridiron in 2014.

Currently, Moore’s challenge is recovering from a back ailment. With the CWHL season approaching in Alberta, this season represents a golden opportunity for Moore. As four members of Alberta are competing for spots with the Canadian women’s team that will compete at Sochi, she has the opportunity to contribute to a franchise looking for its first postseason berth. With the momentum that Moore has since the draft, there is no doubt that she will continue her remarkable athletic sojourn in Alberta sports.

Jennifer McLean’s experience adds new dimension to expansion Calgary Fillies

With the Legends Football League expanding to the city of Calgary for the 2013 season, wide receiver Jennifer McLean is bound to emerge as a leader. With the moniker Fillies, the new expansion team is in need of some experienced players that can set the example for the rest of the players.

McLean fits the bill perfectly as she is no stranger to the gridiron. Donning number four with the Calgary Rage, a women’s tackle football team in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, her experience will be crucial once the Fillies compete in their inaugural contest.

Image by Candice Ward Photography

Image by Candice Ward Photography

A September 14 tilt with the Regina Rage, coached by former Jacksonville Jaguars player Brent Hawkins, will determine how ready the Fillies are to compete in the LFL. As McLean competed in the WWCFL at the Wide Receiver position, she knows how to evade tacklers, make plays happen and more importantly, take a hit.

Once the LFL announced an expansion team for Calgary (due to logistical problems with the Toronto Triumph), hardcore women’s football fans could not help but wonder if some members of Calgary’s WWCFL team would cross-over. While McLean (joined by Kora-lea Vidal) took the plunge, Tonia Henderson from the rival Edmonton Storm shall also be joining them this season with the Fillies.

Image obtained from Facebook

Image obtained from Facebook

The added benefit of competing in the LFL is that it improves her conditioning, exposes her to more big-game situations and enables her to sharpen her skills. With the LFL playing indoors on a narrower field, McLean will have to be lightning fast with razor sharp reflexes in order to adapt to a faster offense.

Once she returns to the WWCFL in spring 2014, the experience of LFL will benefit because the wider football field shall improve her vision for the game. Perhaps the biggest adjustment for McLean shall be the uniforms.

Image by Candice Ward Photography

Image by Candice Ward Photography

In the WWCFL, McLean wears the full football uniform (complete with the oversized shoulder pads and helmet with full face-mask). While the LFL uniform is much more revealing, she also has the experience and character which will likely expose her as one of the biggest playmakers for the Fillies.

Rebranded sporting network must show stronger commitment to women’s sports

As the Rogers sports broadcast empire in Canada expands with its acquisition of The Score (channel 52 for most cable subscribers in Ontario, Canada), there seems to be a commitment to stick with the status quo. As The Score is renamed SN360 (SN stands for SportsNet), the programming is relatively the same.

Fans will not be deprived of their weekly fixes of professional wrestling, mixed martial arts and poker. Meanwhile, competitive professional sports that feature women are not part of the larger scheduling plan. Women’s hockey (such as the CWHL) and women’s tackle football (with the WWCFL in Western Canada and the MWFL in the Maritimes) are just not ready for prime time.

While there is no question that the vast majority of sports fans do not know about the existence of these leagues, is there not a moral obligation on the part of these networks to try and help support home grown female sporting product? Even if there was no profit to be made with women’s hockey or women’s tackle football, there would certainly be a tax credit opportunity.

The CRTC ensures that all Canadian-based TV and radio stations air 30 percent Canadian content on their airwaves. Women’s sports would certainly help meet that criterion, while providing much needed attention for a group of budding leagues that are struggling to build an audience.

As these leagues dream of major TV exposure, there is no question that Rogers could emulate what NBC did with the NHL after the 2005 lockout. NBC acquired the rights to NHL hockey for zero money and split any profits evenly with the league. The women of hockey and tackle football are not even compensated; therefore, money is not even an issue.

The sad irony of this whole scenario is that there used to be a specialty cable channel devoted exclusively to women’s sports. Known as WTSN (Women’s Television Sports Network), the network launched on September 7, 2001. Led by former broadcaster Sue Prestedge, the fledgling network failed to gain a fan base and crumbled within two years.

Considering many of the women that compete in hockey and tackle football also juggle career and family, the demands of marketing and promotion that come with helping to grow their respective sport is difficult. While many of these women’s leagues have a board of directors and an executive body to try and help the sport grow, the support of a major sports channel would open doors that would have taken years without their backing.

As Rogers owns over a half dozen different sports channels, a sporting publication and the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club, surely, there must be room to accommodate these budding leagues. The cost of running one franchise in the WWCFL or MWFL would cost less than a baseball player earning the minimum salary.

With the broadcast exposure, it would stimulate interest in the sports, while helping build a fan base. Perhaps over time, these leagues would become profitable and even see players earning a salary. At this time, the priority is just breaking through, and sacrificing poker or horse racing at 3:00 AM in the morning is a small price to pay for the reward of helping build women’s sport in Canada.

Connie Fekete: The Football Player with a Heart of Gold

Competing for the Calgary Rage of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, Connie Fekete is one of many pioneers in the nascent sport of women’s football. A dedicated and assiduous individual who embodies the competitive spirit of the game, Fekete is also an athletic humanitarian. While her gridiron performances contributed to the Rage enjoying their first .500 season in franchise history, she is also a charitable individual who looks to give back to the community.

Connie Fekete

Connie Fekete

When the city of Calgary was ravaged by a series of unforeseen floods, Fekete rose to the occasion. Employing social media, she was quick to report which roads were inaccessible. Once the rains lightened, Fekete and her children went to volunteer their time to assist overworked police and fire crews, while providing relief and comfort to the less fortunate.

Even in the aftermath of the floods, Fekete was still supporting her community. Advising fellow Calgarians of school closures and unsafe areas via social media, her role as a proud citizen was clearly evident. Her off-the-field heroics not only show a sincere concern for her community, but set an example for others as to what is the essence of character and compassion.

A great point of pride included her son making a contribution in an effort for cancer earlier in the summer. Well-known as an avid supporter of Calgary sports (including her attendance at the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto); her charitable endeavors are creating a new legend.

During the first Saturday in July, she took part in a unique fundraiser in which the proceeds raised went towards Special Olympics. Participating in the Bikini Espy fundraising event, the brave women that participated were donning only a bikini and cowboy boots outside. Shivering and tolerating the elements, the event would end by being outfitted with custom Western gear.

In her blog, she mentions how the event resulted in a strengthened confidence in her and the new appreciation for how much fun life can be. One can tell that everything she does comes with great enjoyment and is truly a labour of love.

From an athletic perspective, this past season with the Rage represented several milestones for her. As a defensive back with the squad, she enjoyed the career highlight of her first interception. In addition, she played without a knee brace this season.

While she may be a mom over the age of 40, she has a great joie de vivre that rubs off on everyone she meets. As one of many mothers who compete in the WWCFL, she is helping to shatter the myth about age, parenthood and the ability to excel in competitive sport.

As the sisterhood of women’s football fights to be part of the general sporting conversation, characters like Fekete help to enrich the game. The defining factor of women’s football is that there is a sense of family, and everyone seeks inspiration in each other. While not everyone can be a superstar, there are many ways to be a hero.

The unfolding events of 2013 have represented a great chapter in Fekete’s personal journey. Through the dedication she displays on the football field, her heroics during a horrific flood, complemented by her efforts to improve other’s lives with charitable work, there is vivacity and an excitement for life which emanates. Possessing great character, she is a strong individual and a tremendous role model for women of all ages.

Follow Connie on her blog at: Blogspot
Photo credit by: Candice Ward Photography

Canada opens 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds with shutout victory over Spain

In their opening game of the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland, the Canadian contingent was facing a team from Spain that already had one loss. With the Spaniards making their international debut, the squad had yet to score a point.

Canada jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter. The first touchdown came on Canada’s opening drive. With a drive that only needed four plays and 39 yards, Julie David capped it off with a nine-yard run for a touchdown. Lara Guscott, the only Canadian on the squad playing for a club team based in the United States (the Kansas City Blitz of the Independent Women’s Football League) got the conversion.

As Spain’s offense sputtered in the first quarter, Canada quickly regained control of the ball. David was the answer once again, as she had a five-yard run for the 13-0 advantage. Having helped the Saskatoon Valkyries claim the 2013 WWCFL championship, she is looking for another title with Canada at the IFAF Worlds.

With 1:30 left in the quarter, Canada got on the board with their first receiving touchdown. A pair of Montreal Blitz players, quarterback Saadia Ashraf and running back Sophie Roy connected for the touchdown.

Special teams contributed to the two Canadian touchdowns in the second quarter. David returned a kick 70 yards for the 28-0 advantage. Although Spain had two long drives in the quarter (including a surprising 50-yard drive that resulted in a goal line stand), difficulties converting on third down nullified their efforts. Near the end of the quarter, Spain punted and Julie Paetsch (also of the Valkyries) returned it 35 yards for the touchdown. Having suffered with a knee injury for most of the WWCFL season, Paetsch’s comeback with Canada is an admirable one.

With a 35-0 lead going into the third quarter, Canada enjoyed an insurmountable lead. Spain continued to rely on the running game as the passing game was not effective. Despite keeping Canada’s defense on the field for long periods of time, the lack of experience showed. Its inability to convert on third and fourth downs prevented them from scoring.

As there were only 42 seconds left, Mallory Starkey of the Regina Riot punched through the Spanish defense for a one-yard score. Guscott would run in the ball for the two-point conversion. With Spain facing a 43-point deficit, they would play the fourth quarter for pride.

Although Spain relied on the running game again, their offense was showing signs of life against a Canadian defense that was facing fatigue. A 37-yard drive consumed more than half of the quarter. Once again, Starkey would emerge as the story of the second half for Canada. A 47-yard run by Starkey resulted in a touchdown, providing Canada with the 50-0 lead. Of note, Canada’s drive only used up 51 seconds.

While Spain was unable to score their first touchdown of the tournament against Canada, players such as Del Carmen Arroyo Moreno and Azucena Munoz Martos played valiantly on offense for Spain. As the Spaniards managed to win the battle in time of possession, It may help provide Spain with confidence as their next match is in the fifth place game. Julie David was recognized as the Most Valuable Player of the Game for Canada, while Spanish defensive back Veraya Romero Coronas earned the nod for Spain.

Canada’s next opponent is the host country Finland. The winner of the match will proceed to the gold medla game where they will likely meet the United States for the right to be called world champions.